Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)
This one’s tough. The Patriots should be able to cover this 5 point spread at home against the Chiefs. The Chiefs have famously won 11 straight games since a 1-5 start, but who did they beat over that time period? Buffalo? Denver when Manning had a bad foot? Houston? Meanwhile, during their 1-5 start, they lost to the likes of Denver (with a healthier Manning), Green Bay, Cincinnati, Minnesota, all playoff teams. They’re a solid team and rank 8th in rate of moving the chains differential, but I don’t really like their chances of winning a road playoff game against a tough team and making a deep run, especially since teams are 11-21 ATS in the playoffs on a winning streak of 7 or more, since 2001.
Their toughest game strength of schedule wise that they won might have been last week in Houston. The final score was 30-0, but that’s a little misleading, as the Chiefs didn’t have an offensive touchdown until JJ Watt got hurt in the 3rd quarter. That win was propelled by a kickoff return touchdown and a +4 turnover margin, two things they won’t be able to count on this week, against an opponent that ended up being pretty weak without the superstar Watt. Kansas City’s offense really seemed to miss talented rookie center Mitch Morse, who will miss his 2nd straight game with a concussion this week. Possibly joining him on the sideline this week are top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who hurt his ankle last week, and outside linebacker Justin Houston, a defensive standout who tweaked a knee injury last week that caused him to miss the previous 5 games.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are getting way healthier this week. They’ve played pretty badly in recent weeks, especially struggling on the offensive side of the ball, moving the chains at a 65.42% rate in the past 7 games, as opposed to 79.81% in the first 9 games of the season. That timeline coincides with when top wide receiver Julian Edelman went down with a broken foot, but he makes his return this week after more than 2 months.
It wasn’t just Julian Edelman getting hurt, as Edelman, running back Dion Lewis, running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Danny Amendola, tight end Rob Gronkowski, tight end Scott Chandler, guard Josh Kline, offensive tackle Nate Solder, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, defensive end Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, linebacker Jamie Collins, safety Devin McCourty, and safety Patrick Chung all combined to miss 45 full games over that 7 game stretch (33 offensive, 12 defensive). Amendola, Chandler, Kline, Gronkowski, Collins, McCourty, and Chung all played week 17, while Vollmer, Jones, and Hightower all return this week, along with Edelman. Blount, Lewis, Solder, and Easley are all out for the season, but every team has some amount of injuries right now. They’re in pretty good shape.
However, it’s tough to be too confident in them because we just haven’t seen it from them in a while. It’s a projection that they’re going to be a lot better this week, a good one, but it’s tough to know that everything is just going to go back to the way it was a couple months ago. I also don’t like the feel around this one, with Chandler Jones possibly facing an internal punishment for an off-the-field issue and Rob Gronkowski apparently being more questionable than normal questionable and reportedly getting a pain injection on Thursday in the right knee he injured earlier this season. Add in the fact that home teams in the divisional round are just 8-16 ATS since 2001 against a team that is coming off of a road win in the wild card round and that close to 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer, and it becomes very tough to be too confident in New England covering as 5 point favorites, though they are my pick.
New England Patriots 24 Kansas City Chiefs 17
Pick against the spread: New England -5